Thursday is the first day of early voting for the July 26 elections in North Carolina.
In Wake County, there are three races on the ballot: a runoff in the Democratic primary Wake County Sheriff's Office race and two Town of Cary Council seats, in District C and an at-large seat.
"We're bringing our full Wake County battleship. Because a lower turnout typically you're going to see closer differences between votes, and we want to make sure we're doing everything by the numbers as we always do. But you don't ever cut corners when it comes to an election," said Gary Sims, the Director of Elections for the Wake County Board of Elections.
The Sheriff's race is anticipated to attract the most attention. In May, challenger Willie Rowe captured 29.4% of the vote, just missing the 30%-plus-one-vote threshold to avoid a runoff. He'll run against incumbent Gerald Baker, who finished in second place with about 24% of the vote.
"From a civic and community serving aspect, we've formulated a community relations unit when we came into office. Up to date, we've (had) close to 100 events that we've been involved in, been invited to be involved in. Serving every community in this county," said Baker.
"We're focused on increasing the staff to get up to sufficient levels so that we can serve and protect. Improve morale, working conditions. Create an environment that's welcoming to everyone. To build a consensus so that everyone - staff and residents - of Wake County feel valued to share their input," Rowe explained.
Rowe, an Army veteran who retired as a Major after 28 years in the Wake County Sheriff's Office, shared what he'd like to accomplish should he win.
"What I bring to the table in addition to my law enforcement experience is also my leadership skills, and also a proven relationships with the community, all the stakeholders to bring out successful outcomes. This is a new approach that's needed to involve everyone to address issues like mental health crises and drug addiction.," Rowe said.
Baker said his office is actively recruiting, and pointed to ongoing efforts to take guns and drugs off the street.
"Restoring the accountability and integrity of this office, those things are first and foremost when you start talking about organization and serving the people (with) law enforcement. Serving and protecting. So those are things that we've been doing since we took office," said Baker.
Baker came into office in 2018, after defeating long-term Sheriff Donnie Harrison; Harrison won the Republican primary in May and will face the winner in November.
Voter turnout was slightly under 20% in May, with Sims anticipating even lower turnout during this race. In the past two second primaries in Wake County, in 2012 and 2014, turnout was just 4.5% and 2.4% respectively. It's why both Baker and Rowe's staffs are engaging in voter turnout, connecting via text and social media to try and get voters to the polls.
"Very easy. Just walked right in and then vote. Usually in early voting, it's not as long a line as on the actual election day," said Dean Simpson, who showed up Thursday morning to cast her ballot.
"Well it's a civic duty that every citizen has a responsibility to do. And public safety is a vital important issue in Wake County," added Joe Simpson.
Registered Democrats and registered unaffiliated voters who voted in the Democratic primary or did not vote in May are eligible to vote in the Wake County Sheriff's run-off; of about 803,157 registered voters in the county, more than 625,000 can participate in this race.
"It is lower cost, we have fewer ballots needed and so forth. And obviously we don't need to have as many poll workers as we would have in a larger election. So yes, there are going to be less costs, but you're still going to be looking at around $1.3 million total," said Sims when asked about the cost to hold the election.
For the Town of Cary Council seats, Chatham County residents must cast their ballots at the Chatham County Board of Elections.
Early voting locations are the Herbert C. Young Community Center on 101 Wilkinson Avenue in Cary and the Wake County Board of Elections Office on 1200 N. New Hope Road in Raleigh. Early voting is July 7th-8th, from 8:00 AM to 7:30 PM, July 11th to July 15th from 8:00 AM to 7:30 PM, Sunday, July 17th from 1:00 to 6:00 PM, July 18th to July 22nd from 8:00 AM to 7:30 PM, and July 23rd from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Election day is Tuesday, July 26th.
Elsewhere there are runoffs in Rocky Mounty City Council for Ward 7 and the Franklin County Board of Education, as well as general elections for City Council and Mayor in Sanford and Fayetteville.